I enjoyed my second Walk Across Lake Winnebago this past weekend, so I want to share a set of pictures and reflections from the walk. I am someone who loves Wisconsin and winter enough that I started a blog to convince people to appreciate the beauty and fun we can have here during winter, so this is the kind of inspiring event I want people to use as a model! (I also have written about last year’s Walk, and the history of the Walk.) As the above photo suggests, the view from the opening leg is exciting. Seeing a long line of people, snaking across the path ahead, makes one feel part of something big!
On a smaller scale, there are sights of intricate beauty to be found, if one takes a look:
These are the kind of sights that one might capture during a variety of kinds of experience out on the ice. But it helps to have special events like this to bring a lot of people out here, to have the chance to look! I love to watch for the strange patterns that can be formed in the ice.
Most of what I saw, when looking at the nature around the walk, were sights like the preceding one. Snow that extends so far away… that it is a bit hard to wrap one’s head around the immensity of it. Snow that extends so far, human vision can only capture so much of it before it blurs into a white haze curving away… and then, above it, a distant shoreline.
I spent more time viewing images like the one to the left, though. When you walk on ice, its important to safely keep an eye on what you’re walking on! The road across the ice – plowed, driven over, and then walked over by hundreds – had patches of exposed ice, but usually one could find a sweet spot of packed snow to walk in along the side.
I got familiar at spotting the tracks of what one could use to help grip the ice – particularly the crisscrossing marks left by Yaktrax brand ice-traction devices people add to their shoes.
One marks the distance in part by watching for landmarks. There is a regular set of old Christmas trees marking the road, giving a sense of one’s progress. More notably, there will periodically be areas with a mix of tables trucks and more, breakpoints where a group has gathered.
Or, to put it more poetically… ‘hark, what do I see in distance? Is it a mirage? Or, like Brigadoon, perhaps once in a great while a village magically arises where one would not expect to find one… and then disappears until the next year :)’
More prosaic than Brigadoon, but equally lively, is the key temporary hamlet, Apple Pie Ville. (And don’t worry folks, it may be gone… but even larger numbers will soon be on the ice, for sturgeon spearing season…) As a blogger who plays tribute to the outdoors in winter, I tend to focus on images of nature – but for most participants, this is largely a chance for community fun. And this stop in the middle is a highlight!
At Apple Pie Ville, the supplies are brought by truck, but others find different ways to haul items. On the left, we see an example of a rare but regular practice – pulling a sled’s worth of supplies across the ice. On the right, a bike used to pull a supply sled, by bikers spreading good cheer on their way across the ice!
Serendipitously, a dog charmingly posed amidst the shot I was setting up of the sled! This event raises funds for the Neenah Animal Shelter, so there are a lot of dog-lovers on the walk – but not a lot of dogs, given the difficult conditions. (And yes, on this winter landscape, the dogs get to walk, while humans do the hauling 😉
This year’s event paid tribute to one of the Walk’s strongest supporters, David Kohler. Kohler, an animal lover who helped the Walk raise a lot of funds for the Shelter, passed away in September 2014.
Part of the charm of an event like this is seeing all the ways people find to make the ice feel homey – and to entertain themselves. Walkers and non-walkers alike come to hang out for a hours. So yes, someone had a fire out on the ice.
New for this year, one could buy pizza on the ice. In the modern world, one can call ahead, while walking across a frozen lake, to order pizza being cooked elsewhere on the ice… its a strange world, when you think about it!
Some who joined the event got an impressive workout – bikers and runners (pictured) who crossed the lake both ways. But most of us just went one-way, and took a reasonably paced, but fairly leisurely, pace for the ten miles we covered.
In some ways, what is weird about the event is how… ordinary it feels. From the conversations I had, or overheard, I got the sense that this was not a group who came out primarily out of a desire to study nature, or to engage in some extreme exercise. These were people who largely live in the area, and were taking the chance to come together in a local public space; people who were having everyday social conversations, while on a social walk together. And quite a range of people – Stacy Frakes told me that walkers in past years have ranged from a 2nd-grader all the way to a woman of around 80 years. It is easy to feel part of a community enjoying being active. The most common comment organizers hear is ‘you end up walking with different people, people you’ve never met before’ – it brings the lake community together. It just so happens that this community meets up miles out on the ice!
I wish we had more such social walks! Why not get out and walk around the public natural areas in our communities with our neighbors more often? More promenading! Perhaps that can be a means for communities in other parts of the state find ways to appreciate what the public nature around them has to offer?
Which led me to wonder; could other communities, if they found the right event, also decide to have a communal celebration during a winter outdoors event? (The large number of fishoramas and fishorees and the like demonstrate that many already do so, in a fashion.) As the organizers told me, this changes how they and others look at February – now, they have something special to look forward to. And if being outside in winter can feel so ordinary, at times like this (or during fishing, tubing, skiing, or while walking around a city), I wonder why so many people complain about winter, at other times? (Well, I’ll keep working to try to convince people to remember the bright spots, like this event!)
Part of the fun for me, as someone who loves viewing winter nature at a slow pace, and taking pictures of it, is finding out what kind of immersive experiences I can have; what does it feel like when I stop and take in the fact that I’m in the middle of a 215 square mile lake? And what intriguing perspectives can I capture from the walk; for instance, what do viewers think when they look at the above photo? What does it help us see about ice?
Lake Winnebago is a special place, one that provides a unique sort of opportunity which this walk takes advantage of. An event like this, involving the vistas one can look over, and involving a long safe walk through the wilderness, could not be held in most locations. But lakes have traditionally been considered public spaces in Wisconsin, so when a lake temporarily becomes a solid surface, it opens up a space for hosting an event such as this. Winter may be cold, but I hope we in Wisconsin appreciate how fortunate we are to have a combination of nature which the public can access, and below-freezing weather, which enables people in places like the Winnebago area (and other lake communities) to take advantage of the situation; to visit an outdoor commons and enjoy ourselves there!
As my final image to represent this year’s walk, I want to recapture that combination of walkers and bikers, wild nature and community conversation, of so many different contributions from locals in the area, that makes this event special. This year, ads on the side of the road – which reminded me of Wall Drug 😉 – kept reminding us that pizza was ahead. (I love the directions: ‘after Apple Pie Ville.’ Yep, when you’re walking straight on the only road you see on the ice, that’s direction enough!) The walk saw a steady flow of walkers, occasionally visited by trucks, snowmobiles, bikers (and one plane). This is Winter, this is Wisconsin, and this is how we like it! Now, its your turn to get out and enjoy winter, other Wisconsin communities…